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Bend boarders, skiers set sights toward Olympics

Australia’s Kent Callister among those making bids for the Pyeongchang Games


Kent Callister had a taste of Olympic glory four years ago in Russia, and now he is hoping for even more this winter in South Korea.

Competing for Australia, the Bend snowboarder finished ninth in the Olympic halfpipe competition at the 2014 Sochi Games.

He said he hopes to compete for the Aussies again in the 2018 Winter Olympics, set for Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea — and maybe even make a bid for a medal.

“I definitely look forward to improving that result, for sure,” Callister, now 22, said this week of his Olympic performance four years ago. “It’d be great to be on the podium, that’s kind of the idea, so we’ll see how we go. I feel confident in myself.”

Callister was the top Australian in Sochi, finishing ahead of all U.S. riders except two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who was fourth.

Callister, whose father is Australian, has dual citizenship. He grew up in Bend but in 2012 made the decision to compete for Australia, figuring he had a better chance of reaching the Olympics as an Aussie than he would as part of the U.S. team.

Born in San Diego, where his mother is from, Callister moved with his parents and older sister to Gold Coast, Australia, when he was 5. The family moved back to the United States, this time to Bend, when he was 9.

Callister began snowboarding with the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation and rose through the amateur ranks.

He posted some strong results last season, including two eighth-place finishes in World Cup events. One of those was the South Korean Olympic test event at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang this past February.

“That was a good little warm-up for the Olympics,” Callister said. “I feel good with that. It’s good to know that it’ll be a good halfpipe there.”

Callister finished ninth in the Spain World Championships in March.

In August, Callister trained with other Australian team members in New Zealand. Last month he headed to Switzerland for even more training, working specifically on his amplitude coming out of the halfpipe.

Halfpipe snowboarders are judged on the difficulty, execution and amplitude of the aerial tricks they perform as they soar in and out of the U-shaped pipe.

“Judges are always looking for big amplitude,” Callister said.

He said he was also working on a new trick in Switzerland, the Double McTwist 1260, which includes 3½ revolutions and two flips.

“I did not quite get it, so I’m looking to land it at Copper Mountain (Colorado) at the Grand Prix,” he said.

Three U.S. Grand Prix snowboarding events will help Callister secure a spot on the Australian Olympic team and will help determine the U.S. team as well. Those events are scheduled for Copper Mountain, Dec. 3-10; Snowmass, Colorado, Jan. 7-14; and Mammoth Mountain, California, Jan. 15-21.

“The points and everything are looking good, I just need to stay in the top 40 (in the world),” Callister explained. “So if I can do that for this next Grand Prix, I think I should be good to go to the Olympics.

“I love competing … but I do just love snowboarding and traveling the world, it’s an added bonus. I hope to do it for as long as I can.”

Ben Ferguson, halfpipe snowboarding

Ben Ferguson, of Bend, will be looking to perform well in those Grand Prix events as well to qualify for his first Olympic team. He just missed making the elite U.S. squad for the 2014 Sochi Games.

In 2016, he finished second in the X Games and scored several podium finishes at contests around the globe.

Ferguson, 22, was fourth overall at the Olympic test event in Pyeongchang and has been one of the most consistent U.S. halfpipe riders over the past few seasons.

“It’s definitely a priority of mine to make the team,” Ferguson told The Bulletin earlier this year. “There’s a lot of good American halfpipe riders, but I think I’ve got a good chance at it.”

Gabe Ferguson, halfpipe snowboarding

Gabe Ferguson, 18, gives older brother Ben lots of credit for getting him to compete at such a high level in the halfpipe. The brothers — both members of the U.S. Snowboarding pro halfpipe team — grew up snowboarding together at Mt. Bachelor.

“My brother has definitely opened a lot of doors for me and has pushed me a ton,” Gabe said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am without him.”

Gabe earned his first Grand Prix podium in 2016 and was 11th at the Olympic test event in South Korea this past February.

Laurenne Ross, alpine skiing

After suffering a devastating knee injury on the last day of the 2016-17 racing season, Ross, of Bend, is on an ambitious mission to get back to ski racing this season in time to qualify for her second Olympics.

Ross, 29, has been the second-most accomplished American speed racer behind Lindsey Vonn the past two years, and she was finishing up another solid season in late March when she crashed during the U.S. championships at Sugarloaf in Maine.

She posted seven World Cup top-10 finishes in 2016-17, placed fifth in the world championships downhill, and finished fourth in the Olympic test event downhill in South Korea.

“I felt really good on that hill,” Ross said of the Jeongseon Alpine Centre, which will host the Olympic speed events of downhill and super-G. “I really like that terrain. I really connected with it. I felt confident on my skis and I found some speed toward the end of the season.”

In the 2014 Sochi Games, Ross was the second-fastest U.S. skier in the women’s downhill, in which she placed 11th overall. She is a member of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team’s A team, which includes the top skiers and those who typically race on the World Cup circuit and in the Olympic Games.

World Cup results this season are the main determining factor for Olympic qualification.

Tommy Ford, alpine skiing

Ford, 28 and of Bend, is also a member of the A team and is vying to make his second Olympic team after working his way back from a traumatic injury in 2013.

Ford boasted three top-15 giant slalom finishes in World Cup competition last season in Europe.

An eight-time national champion and 2010 Olympian, Ford fractured his right femur while freeskiing in the French Alps in January 2013. After missing the entire 2013-14 racing season — including the Sochi Games — he returned to the slopes to race again in 2014-15.

His results that season were good enough for U.S. alpine team coaches to give him the nod for the 2015 world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, where he finished 19th in giant slalom.

Ford finished 26th in giant slalom at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Halfpipe freeskiers

Perhaps somewhat under the radar, but high-flying nevertheless, are the four skiers from Bend on the U.S. Freeskiing rookie halfpipe team.

The four — Hunter Hess, 19; Jake Mageau, 19; Jacob Beebe, 18; and Anna Gorham, 17 — are part of the up-and-coming generation of young freeskiers. The Bend skiers, who make up nearly half of the rookie halfpipe team, all have an outside shot at qualifying for the Olympic team, but the 2022 Games might be more of a possibility.

The U.S. halfpipe ski team, much like the U.S. halfpipe snowboard team, is stacked with talented athletes.

Hess finished seventh at a World Cup event in New Zealand in September.

—Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com